Before I discuss, Andrew Loewen, the red hot Columbus Cottonmouths or the arrival of Shannon Szabados, let me remind you, Snakes fans, that you don't need to get ALL (just most) of your Snakes info from me...
You can ask Jerome Bechard himself. Tomorrow is our last Ledger-Enquirer chat of the season. Just log in to www.ledger-enquirer.com on Monday at 12:30 and fire away. I'm sure JB will be delighted to tell you of the whirlwind of the past week. :)
What a weekend!! Three-in-three is the norm in the SPHL, but all three at home? Definitely not! The Thursday game was the Mother Nature game...the one in which Louisiana was hit by snow and ice and the Gators couldn't get here. Instead, Fayetteville came to town, followed by Bloomington on Friday and Saturday.
Though the players are reluctant to say so, I can say that these are three games the Snakes needed to win...and should have won. If you're in the hunt for a playoff spot and then playoff seeding, you need to beat the teams below you. Period. Both Fayetteville and Bloomington have had tough seasons and both will probably be shut out of postseason play. Now was the time for the Snakes to RISE UP!! (I know, Falcons fans...it's not quite time for football...lol)
The Snakes did exactly that, sweeping the weekend series with the Antz and Thunder. Thursday night was not the prettiest of wins, but check the standings. It counts. Curtis Martinu continues to baffle us in net. Curtis has a strong first period and the rest of the game is the proverbial roller coaster. He makes key saves and lets in soft goals. Part of a rookie's learning curve, I guess, but I'm pretty sure Thursday night marked Curtis' swan song for this year. He'll be back in camp vying for a spot next October, but with Shannon's arrival, Curtis will be on the sidelines.
What more can be said about Andrew Loewen? He is looking more and more like the de facto Goalie of the Year from last season. Every time I interview Andrew, he politely and smilingly reminds me that he's told me all season that this was a process. Sadly, he's right...haha. But it's not just Andrew who's undergone the process. Take a look at the D and what it's gone through...
The D returned Tom Maldonado, Chris Bailer and Kyle Johnson...and Kevin Kessler. Kevin was waived after only two games. This was very tough on all the guys, especially his fellow defensemen, as Kevin was a very good teammate and friend, as well as a leader in the lockerroom. Then you've got Chris, who's battled a nagging, painful injury for weeks. Mike Switzer has stepped up and played well after taking over Kevin's spot. But the biggest impact on the D, aside from Tom's steady leadership, is the growth and improvement of rookies Jason Gray and Andy Willigar. (Why can I spell Szabados and still have to think...Grey or Gray...lol)
Jason and Andy have learned and improved so much. Sure, they still make mistakes, but who doesn't?
Didn't the air just completely leave the building when Neilsson Arcibal went down last night? A collective gasp...then silence. The Neilsson-Preston Shupe-Steve Mele/Tory Allan line has been many times more productive recently than the so-called top scoring line of Sam Bowles-Matt Gingera-Jordan Draper. In fact, the Snakes actually have TWO top scoring lines, which will serve them well in the playoffs. Back to Neilsson...
The best news I can give you about Neilsson is that his ever-present smile was there after the game. A good sign, believe me. The preliminary diagnosis by Dr. Fred Flandry was that there was no broken bone. That's good news...kinda. Sometimes a break is better than a sprain in terms of time lost. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Time and more testing will provide more info about Neilsson, but the Kathy Gierer diagnosis is that he's out 'til the playoffs. :) I think all of us would gladly accept that diagnosis...except maybe Neilsson.
The offense has really picked up in the last month or so. The Snakes are scoring 4, 5 or 6 way more often than 0, 1 or 2. Heading into the playoffs is exactly when you want a team to peak. This team is definitely doing that. You can call it whatever you want. Mike Vee once described it as swagger. The guys call it confidence. Whatever the feeling is, it's palpable. You can feel it in the air. The Snake Pit is a fun and exciting place to be.
It's about to get a whole lot more exciting this weekend with Shannon's arrival. I spoke to her by phone for my story and I have to tell you, she was awesome to talk to. Very friendly and very down to earth...and VERY excited to come here!! Not just the experience and being a pioneer for female hockey players. But she's thrilled to see this part of the country and experience the organization that her pals Jordan, Andy and Kyle have raved about.
She said..."After hearing your accent, I'm really excited to get down there." I told her she must be mistaken. I don't have an accent...haha. I also told her that she must train her ears to slow down a little, as we, in the deep South, have no one-syllable words. Each is a minimum of five...lol. You should hear my three-year-old great-niece say "touchdown"...six syllables. :)
If you know anybody who's planning to come see Shannon's debut, keep a close watch on this space and the L-E as I'm pretty sure JB will announce it in advance. When she does, ya'all better get the word out to buy your tickets. I'm predicting this will be the largest crowd the Snakes have seen in their SPHL tenure of 10 years.
Also bracing for the onslaught of media, both from the US and Canada. This is one of the biggest sports stories to ever hit Columbus, GA. SOOOO exciting!
Amidst all the Shannon hoopla, the guys are streaking toward the playoffs. My pal Don Money of Pro Hockey News, who lives in Florida and has been a friend for all my 10 years in the SPHL, said that he'd thought the Snakes were going to give me a championship as my going away gift, but he didn't expect them to provide the Shannon story for me to cover as well. Don is right...it's definitely all about me. :) Jerome is so thoughtful. :)
Seriously, though, the one downside is that, with all of this excitement and the extra work it's brought for me, it's making the end of the season so much more real. Three more home games, following a week that will redefine 'busy'. Then comes the uncertainty of the playoffs.
I always look at the playoffs as what kind of matchup it'll be for the guys. But this year, I'm pulling hard for the Snakes to play Pensacola, Huntsville, Knoxville or Biloxi. I know you're shaking your head if you're looking at the standings. I'm looking at the map. Some places (LA or Peoria, maybe Southaven) are just plain too far for me to go logistically, depending on the day of the week. Maybe I could stay overnight and drive back the next day...if it's a weekend...if, if, if. Welcome to playoff hockey!! A nightmare for me, because I'm a planner and in the playoffs, it's fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants time!
Lots of excitement coming up. Can't wait!